“Oh, my God, he’s not…?”
“No. But I know she’ll want an update. I just spoke to the hospital.”
“Go right on in. Holler if you need me.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks.” He walked into Mabel’s room, tapping the door as he walked in.
“Frankie!” She held out her hands to him.
“I got an update on Ralph,” he said, sitting on the edge of her bed.
“He’s pretty banged up, Mabel, but he’s alive. They have him in the ICU. He’s in guarded condition.”
“What does that mean?” Tears formed in her eyes.
Frank took her hands in his, holding them gently. “It means that he’s alive and he’s holding his own. He’s in good hands, closely watched and cared for. It’s better than serious or critical, Mabel. You have to believe that he’s going to be okay.”
She lay back on her pillows, tears squeezing out from between her lashes. “He was always such a difficult boy. He took his mother’s death so hard. His father was a harsh man. Not cruel, but not sympathetic. He never understood Ralph. By the time I got him, he was already such a brat, I had my hands full. He didn’t like me much, but I tried. I do love him, Frankie. But I don’t like him much. He grew up hard and selfish—just plain mean.”
“Some people are like that, Mabel. No matter what you do.”
“He took his brother’s death hard too. My son was the only one who really made a difference in Ralph’s life. He doted on that boy. His name was Frankie too. He looked a lot like you, you know. All big, dark eyes in his little face.” She sniffled. “He loved his big brother. Ralph fell apart when Frankie was killed.”
Frank patted her hands, kissing her arthritis gnarled knuckles. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“He likes you, you know.”
“Me? You’re kidding. Mabel, he totally hates my guts.”
“You remind him of his brother. He was just your age when he died. You look so much like him, it’s positively uncanny. I think a little bit of Ralphie wanted you to be Frankie. You understand, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I do. I’m gonna go by later and try to see him. I’ll let you know how he’s doing, okay?”
“Thank you, sweetheart. Come see me anytime. And bring that darling girl with you. She’s such a comfort.” She sighed, her eyes closing. Her even breathing told Frank she was asleep.
Frank wandered back to his office to see how the police were doing. The forensics technician had finally finished. She’d bagged his papers and furniture as evidence and the maintenance men carried it out to her van.
“Can I go in now?” Frank asked her.
“Everything that was important is out. Your external drive is here.” She pointed to it. “I can go with you to lock it up.”
“Thanks. I’m surprised they didn’t take it.”
“Some folks aren’t too bright.”
“I’d say so.” He chuckled.
“You should probably check it later to make sure nothing’s been tampered with.”
“I will. We’ve got the techs changing the passwords.”
They took the equipment to the bank and the manager locked it in a box for him. Frank returned to his office. Sitting on a borrowed chair, he looked to see what was left of his possessions. The inside of the desk hadn’t really been touched. However, everything else was trashed.
Marka tapped on his door. “You okay?”
“At loose ends. I can’t do anything until the techs finish with the passwords and make sure nothing’s been hacked. I need to call my mom and get a couple more pictures. This is going to really upset her.”
“Ask your dad or your sister instead.”
“Jen will freak more than my mom. Dad’s a good idea. Later, though.”
“What do you think they wanted?”
“I think that they think Penwarren gave me something. He didn’t. He couldn’t talk, he was barely breathing. Both arms broken, he’s gonna hand me something?”
Marka smiled, shaking her head. “Let’s get some lunch. I’m starving and I think you need to get away from here.”
“I do. Okay, I have an idea. When’s your next appointment?”
“Great.” He poked his head into Jeff’s office. “I’m showing Dr. Ventimiglia around. We’re taking a long lunch.”
“Go for it, kid. There’s nothing you can do around here until later.”
Frank saluted their boss and led Marka to his car to find that someone had slashed all four tires.
© Dellani Oakes
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